As a child, Glinda Watts spent a lot of “unsupervised” time outdoors at her grandparents’
home in semi-rural Germantown. “The woods drew me in,” she remembers. “The herbs grabbed
By Gabrielle Maxey
Watts may not have known it then, but the white-flowered mayapple that caught her
eye was used by Native Americans to treat stomach ailments, rheumatism and liver disorders.
Today it’s used to synthesize an important cancer drug.
A registered herbalist and traditional healer, Watts (BA ’74) is working to conserve
native plants used in healing at the recently opened Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary
|Registered herbalist Glinda Watts checks on medicinal herbs being preserved along
a trail at Chucalissa.
The native plants that grow in southwest Memphis were used by Native Americans and
African-Americans to treat all manner of ailments, from arthritis and asthma to kidney
disorders, upset stomachs and even cancers.
The sanctuary includes poke root, goldenseal, black cohosh, trillium, smooth sumac,
violet leaf and Tennessee coneflower. Some of the plants are growing naturally in
a couple of locations along a trail running through Chucalissa. Others are found deeper
in the woods and are not accessible to the public.
"By this fall, we will have several smaller beds adjacent to the trail at different
environmental niches throughout the wooded area," says Dr. Robert Connolly, director
of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. "These additional beds will contain medicinal
plant species suited to the diverse environmental niches found throughout the Chucalissa
forests. Eventually, we intend to crop these plants and make them available to the
Actually, says Watts, "The entire place is a sanctuary. We were already an arboretum
with a great variety of trees. From the native plants that are naturally growing right
down to the Bermuda grass, everything is medicine."
Some 80 percent of the world practices traditional medicine, Watts says, so it’s crucial
to preserve native plants for future generations. "A lot of it is sourced from the
U.S., from our eastern hardwood forests." Take ginseng, for example. "The Chinese
love our ginseng, but it takes years to mature and it lives in sensitive environments."
The market for botanical remedies is growing. "People want to have a hand in their
own health care," says Watts. "We can treat things at a subclinical level before they
|Goldenseal is among the plants being protected at the recently opened Traditional
Medicinal Plant Sanctuary at Chucalissa.
As a traditional healer, Watts sees private clients who want to improve areas of their
health like digestion, cardiovascular function or immune system. An herbal consultation
does not replace a visit to a physician, she points out. Conventional medicine should
be complemented by traditional healing for good health. "Natural healing addresses
a state of being that allopathic medicine misses."
Watts has developed her practice over more than a quarter century. She has studied
herbal medicine across the United States, including at the Southwest School of Botanical
Medicine. In 2004 she received professional accreditation from the American Herbalist
Guild, a designation that requires 1,200 hours of study of botanical medicine and
400 hours of clinical experience.
"I’ve always been drawn to healing," says Watts, who worked in the mental health field
for five years and as a supplement expert at the Squash Blossom natural food store.
"While I was working there I had the flu on Christmas Eve, so I took some Chinese
herbs," Watts remembers. "By the next day I was up and around." She also leads interpretive
plant walks in places that have biodiversity, like Shelby Forest.
"Plants need to be protected just like animals in a zoo," she says. "Maybe more. They
give us food, fiber, clothing and building materials. We can’t live without plants."